COMMENT OF THE DAY: A LITTLE 411 ON THAT 2010 $6 MILLION 380 SOUTH OF I-10 “For the record, the Ainbinder 380 Agreement did not include drainage detention, they simply tied into existing storm sewer systems — there were no ‘improvements.’ The road was widened at the expense of a tree-lined sidewalk. The sidewalk was ‘abandoned,’ which means ‘is no longer in existence.’ There are no street tree wells and/or no ROW accounted for to plant shade-bearing street trees. The removal of $250K worth of mature Live Oaks resulted in a transfer of this public amenity to Walmart’s parking lot. Yes, that’s right. Public trees were allowed to be replanted on Walmart’s parking lot.
And, oh yeah, the four-sided intersection has just two pedestrian signalized crossings. Yes, you can’t actually safely cross on two sides because there are no lights and markings. Why? Because PW&E missed it and the developer didn’t end up having to pay for it. The ‘bridge improvement’ is the biggest boondoggle of them all. Ainbinder wanted to pave it and area civic orgs fought them. Turns out, after coring was performed on the bridge, that the dead load was far greater than known AS A RESULT OF previous paving. That was the second load limit drop. So, Ainbinder window-dressed and spent 380 monies for cosmetic treatments — changing out balustrades and painting A BRIDGE THAT WILL BE TORN DOWN. That is an absurd waste of taxpayer money.
Unlike other 380s, the Ainbinder 380 had next to no specifications that ensured deliverables. There were no clawback provisions to ensure public return on the investment. Once the money is awarded to the developer, they can strike or change line items and they still get full payment. The development doesn’t even have to perform to produce new taxes (not just poached taxes), it can be a miserable failure and they still get paid.
The folks that were championing this development are now trying to pretend the public infrastructure results were worth $6,000,000 of public money. Guess what? You were wrong then and you’re still wrong now. The proof is right there for everyone to see. Own it.” [TexasSpiral, commenting on Headlines: Getting to the Washington Heights Walmart; Learning Lessons from Hurricane Ike]
HOUSTON’S FIRST-EVER INNER LOOP WALMART OPENS NEXT WEEK “Hundreds of blue shopping carts area already lined up in the parking lot” of the “Washington Heights” Walmart SuperCenter at 111 Yale St. and Koehler, reports Charlotte Aguilar. When will customers start lining up? Sometime in advance of the scheduled October 26th opening. That’s 2 Fridays from today. If you’re bringing the family in an SUV or pickup, though, you might want to avoid crossing the Yale St. bridge just south of I-10. It’s now restricted to vehicles under 6,000 pounds. Walmart says it’s routing all supply trucks elsewise as well. [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Charlotte Aguilar
WHERE THE WALMART GOLDEN ARCHES WILL RISE The first sign that there’ll be a McDonald’s in the “Washington Heights” shopping-center development at Yale St. and Koehler . . . has appeared outside the Mickey D’s 2 miles away on Washington near I-10, notes the Swamplot reader who snapped this photo there. Where’s the new location? If you’re looking too hard, you might miss it: 111 Yale St. is the address for the Walmart currently under construction; that means you should be able to find your burgers and fries inside the store when it opens. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox
THE WASHINGTON HEIGHTS WALMART RETAIL BUDDY LIST The list of stores is out. Who’ll be moving in to Ainbinder’s Washington Heights shopping strips at Yale and Koehler, across from the new Walmart in Houston’s West End? Yes, they’re all chains. And there’s a bank, a phone store, a Starbucks, and a nail salon in there, for street- er, parking-lot cred. The lineup: JP Morgan Chase, Taco Cabana, Visionworks, Sport Clips, Jersey Mike’s, Nailtime, GNC, GameStop, Corner Bakery (pictured), Starbucks, Verizon, Which Wich, and Chipotle. [Prime Property; previously on Swamplot] Rendering: The Ainbinder Company
Driving along Yale St. under the railroad bridge that crosses it just north of Center St. in the West End yesterday, a Swamplot reader noticed workers removing the bright French colors from the retaining wall of the underpass. “This area was painted that red, white, and blue that seemed to match Walmart’s trade dress right before the deal went public,” the reader notes. But the Walmart going in just west of Yale St. is due to be clothed in earthier tones. “I wish we knew who paid for the paint job then, and who is paying for the removal now,” the reader writes.
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NEW LAWSUIT SEEKS TO BLOCK WASHINGTON HEIGHTS WALMART TAX DEAL A nonprofit group formed to fight the proposed Washington Heights Walmart in the West End filed a lawsuit in district court yesterday, claiming that the tax reimbursement deal between the city and the project’s developer, Ainbinder Heights LLC, violates state law. Responsible Urban Development for Houston calls the $6 million agreement, in which the city promises to pay the developer back for infrastructure improvements, an “unconstitutional gratuitous transfer” that doesn’t meet state standards. The lawsuit also seeks to shut down all similar agreements established by the city, for “failing to provide sufficient controls to ensure that 380 agreements are not abused as either an end run around bond finance procedures or as political favors returned to well connected developers.” City Council is scheduled to vote on a similar agreement, for a new Kroger on Studemont just south of I-10, today. [Houston Politics; lawsuit; West End Walmart coverage]
The tilt walls are already up! Those of you who’ve been eagerly awaiting the strip-center-themed revival of Yale and Heights Blvd. south of I-10: here are your signs of progress, snapped just yesterday by a Swamplot reader. No, this isn’t the new Walmart — or the Washington Heights District strip centers promised to go with them. It’s Orr Commercial‘s Heights Marketplace, a separate development facing Yale St. at Koehler — and the Walmart site across the street — beating everyone to the punch. Opening dates for Lovett Dental, Wahoo Fish Tacos, the Loan Depot, and more: next March.
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What’s this we’re looking at? New pedestrian-friendly retail going in along Yale St., right across from Ainbinder’s Walmart-anchored center on Yale and Heights Blvd. in the West End? No, silly. That’s a ghost head-in-parked car hidden behind the artfully-placed starburst in the bottom left corner of the rendering. All those figures in front are just walking back and forth between the fish-taco joint at one end and their dentist on the other. Yes, work has already begun on this new strip center at the corner of Yale and Koehler St., called Heights Marketplace. The developer promises it’ll be finished before the end of the year, with the first stores opening next March.
If Ainbinder missed a few strip-center clichés in its Washington Heights District shopping-center plan, this Orr Commercial development, back-to-back with one of Ainbinder’s Heights Blvd.-facing strips, is here to take up the slack:
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A reader traces the provenance of some of the store and restaurant names prominently featured in some newly released renderings meant to show off the assorted new strip-center spaces Moody Rambin Retail hopes to fill near the new Walmart off Yale at Koehler St. in the West End. And finds a few not-so-fake names mixed in with the fake ones:
“Keohler Coffee” is obviously fake, or just bad spelling. But, there is actually a “La Gra Italian Tapas” in St. Louis MO (of all places). I wonder whether they are coming to Houston? And there is a “Nono’s Bistro” on the rendering which has a logo that looks just like the logo for Nino’s Bistro in Harrisburg, PA. The most mysterious of the mystery tenants might be “Krakatoa Seafood and Game”. The logo on the rendering is just like the logo on this logo designer‘s website. But, I cannot find a restaurant anywhere that resembles the logo.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: NOMINATED FOR THE WALMART PEACE PRIZE “. . . If everyone arguing against the West End Walmart would stand up and say, ‘I don’t personally like Walmart but I certainly don’t think less of you for thinking they are not so bad’ then we would probably all get along much better.” [Jimbo, commenting on Surprise! Walmart Buying Land Next to Idylwood for Houston’s First Inner-Loop SuperCenter]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HEIGHTS PLAZA RESIDENTS, TELL US YOUR STORIES “I’d be curious to know what happens to these people after the wrecking ball has come through. Will the folks be homeless? Will they have found their way elsewhere? I’m assuming the latter, but I don’t really know and I think it’s pretty uncommon for many publications to follow-through on this type of article.” [tcv, commenting on Walmart Coming — Everybody Out!]
WALMART COMING — EVERYBODY OUT! What residents of the Heights Plaza Apartments at 205 Heights Blvd. found on their doors Wednesday: Letters explaining that the Ainbinder Company has bought the entire complex and that no tenants’ leases will be renewed. For residents whose leases are up in December, that’s 30 days’ notice. Ainbinder will be extending Koehler St. through the property and building 2 strip centers on the remaining portions — as part of the Washington Heights District development that will include a new Walmart. “Although the sale of the complex to the Walmart developer wasn’t a surprise,” explains reporter Miya Shay, “the pace of the move out did catch some residents off guard. Developer Michael Ainbinder says he’s willing to work with residents who can’t find a place before their lease expires. . . . The last lease runs out at the end of April, and the developer says as soon as that happens, they will begin demolishing the property.” [abc13; previously on Swamplot]
How many cars showed up? “If Steven Colbert can get away with 6 Billion on The Mall, we can call this 22,000…what’s in a number?” asks a reader who says there were actually probably 70 to 100 cars lined up at about 10:15 at last Saturday’s traffic-themed protest of the planned West End Walmart. Comments sent to Swamplot yesterday:
We made the scene at 18th & Rutland during preparation for what one organizer described as a “Flash Mob sort of thing”. . . . The mood was fairly lighthearted; it was a beautiful morning after all. Plan was to drive down and around the Koehler Street site and make general mischief, I guess. Saw one TV station camera crew, but did not see anything in print over the next couple of days. Admittedly, I didn’t look real hard.
While I don’t agree with these folks . . . I have to admit, I honor their activism.
“What we need is sustained outrage”, indeed!
Photo: Swamplot inbox
“Closer inspection,” reports one of 2 readers who sent us photos of these heartwarming signs found on Studewood just north of Fitzgerald’s, “reveals these to be re-purposed campaign signs…Bill White ‘welcomes’ and Jessica Farrar ‘hearts’ Walmart, apparently.” Okay, so what have people been doing with the Rick Perry and Fernando Herrera signs?
Photo: Swamplot inbox
TOP CITY DEVELOPMENT OFFICER: WHAT MAKES THE HEIGHTS SO SPECIAL? Where does Andy Icken get this kind of attitude, anyway? From . . . uh, reading some of the reader comments on Swamplot? The Chronicle‘s Mike Morris rummages through that stash of city emails about the West End Walmart and discovers “dismissive, and sometimes derisive, references to citizens opposed to the development” from Mayor Parker’s top development honcho: “For example, in response to a subordinate’s e-mail regarding potential fallout from a July 2 Chronicle report about Wal-Mart’s interest in the site, the city’s chief development officer, Andy Icken, wrote, ‘In that neighborhood I assume there are some who feel they have access to unique info that makes those folks uniquely qualified to decide what is good for everyone else. … Walmart deals with folks like this everywhere.’ Three weeks later, as neighborhood opposition intensified, Icken responded to a colleague’s comment about Wal-Mart’s growth in the Houston market by writing, ‘We have had 4 new ones built in the last 2 years without a community comment until they touched the effete in the heights!’” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot]